The New Face of Student Activism

Scooter Schaefer
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Posted: Oct 07, 2009 4:55 PM
Imagine for a moment you know a student activist at an expensive New England university. This alternatively dressed student and his friends started a campus club that sounds like a 1960's liberation organization; they regularly attend protests, meet at coffee shops, and engage in philosophy debates. If you are imagining a young liberal radical, don't jump the gun.

There is a new fresh face of student activism that is challenging the liberal bulwark that has long dominated college campuses, and should have you re-examining your pre-conceived notions about campus activism on the right.

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The student activist described above could be any number of students that are a part of a movement that is rapidly growing on college campuses across the country, and is neither an extension of the GOP nor a scheme to repackage conservatism.

To put a face on this surge of activism, look no further than what Patrick Henry deemed as our nation's "primary object," when "the American spirit was in its youth," which is the cause of liberty. Students are always more apt to rally around an ideology or cause that transcends traditional politics, party affiliation, and the diluting effect of compromise.

In the past, right-leaning campus activism has primarily served two traditional roles. First, as a primer for party politics and leadership, with groups such as College Republicans that have long prepared and placed students into the machinery of the Republican Party. And second, as a loose affiliation of campus clubs and organizations that represent the values of evangelicals and social conservatives.

What is missing from this traditional mold of campus activism on the right is a clear and defined ideology that provides a rallying cry for students equal or greater to those on the left. Liberalism on college campuses is not adequately challenged unless by direct confrontation and contradiction. Consider that liberty, although opposite of socialism is similar in its appeal to students. Both are an uncompromising ideology, impassioned cause, and call to action, and therefore can equally resonate with students.

National student organizations such as Students for Liberty, Young Americans for Liberty, and Campaign for Liberty are currently experiencing a groundswell of students rallied not by a single political figure, nor an all-encompassing party, but by belief in an idea. Call it libertarian, classical liberalism, or laissez-faire philosophy, but students can rally around what liberty means in their lives; individualism, self-determination, and autonomy.

And for those students who are able to recognize it, the current administration has become a figurehead as the single greatest threat to their civil liberties.

With this surge of liberty-based campus activism, the question must be asked, how can a complacent conservative movement embrace the most viable opponent to liberal activism that exists on college campuses? The answer lies in curing the inevitable insecurity that conservatives have with a movement that cannot be defined with strict bullet point parameters.

Liberty, with regards to economics, governance, and especially political parties has never been an easy concept to incorporate. It is fluid and open to much interpretation, hence its fascination by students.

The conservative movement can best incorporate these new lovers of liberty by returning to, and articulating its core principles of limited government, individualism, and unfettered autonomy. Reagan was not a libertarian but found consensus on this issue by masterfully articulating our shared beliefs that a government that governs best is one which governs least.

Students need an idea or belief to rally around. The left has successfully rallied students for decades; not with the arcane intricacies of legislation or party politics, but with a cause. The new face of student activism has taken liberty as their cause. To resonate with these students, the conservative movement would do best to communicate the value it holds in the individual liberties of our citizenry and the belief that government is not the solution, government is the problem.